A look at the movement for no government, laws, police, or any other authority.
Anarchist Extremism: A Primer
To help educate the public about domestic terrorism—Americans attacking Americans because of U.S.-based extremist ideologies—we’ve previously outlined three separate threats: eco-terrorists/animal rights extremists, lone offenders, and the sovereign citizen movement.
Today, we look at a fourth threat—anarchist extremism.
What is anarchist extremism? Anarchism is a belief that society should have no government, laws, police, or any other authority. Having that belief is perfectly legal, and the majority of anarchists in the U.S. advocate change through non-violent, non-criminal means. A small minority, however, believes change can only be accomplished through violence and criminal acts…and that, of course, is against the law.
Anarchist extremism is nothing new to the FBI. One of our first big cases occurred in 1919, when the Bureau of Investigation (as we were called then) investigated a series of anarchist bombings in several U.S. cities. And during the 1970s, the FBI investigated anarchist extremists such as the Weather Underground Organization, which conducted a series of bombing campaigns.
The current threat. Anarchist extremism in the U.S. encompasses a variety of ideologies, including anti-capitalism, anti-globalism, and anti-urbanization. There’s also “green anarchy,” an element of anarchist extremism mixed with environmental extremism. The extremists are loosely organized, with no central leadership—although they occasionally demonstrate limited ability to mobilize themselves.
Typically, anarchist extremists in the U.S. are event-driven—they show up at political conventions, economic and financial summits, environmental meetings, and the like. They usually target symbols of Western civilization that they perceive to be the root causes of all societal ills—i.e., financial corporations, government institutions, multinational companies, and law enforcement agencies. They damage and vandalize property, riot, set fires, and perpetrate small-scale bombings. Law enforcement is also concerned about anarchist extremists who may be willing to use improvised explosives devices or improvised incendiary devices.
Currently, much of the criminal activities of anarchist extremists fall under local jurisdiction, so they’re investigated by local police. If asked by police, the Bureau can assist. But we have a heavy presence at a major national or international events generating significant media coverage—that’s when the threat from anarchist extremists, as well as others who are up to no good, dramatically increases.
For today’s generation of American anarchist extremists, the rioting that disrupted the 1999 World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle is the standard by which they measure “success”—it resulted in millions of dollars in property damage and economic loss and injuries to hundreds of law enforcement officers and bystanders. But fortunately, they haven’t been able to duplicate what happened in Seattle…which may be a combination of the improved preparations of law enforcement as well as the disorganization of the movement.
This disorganization, though, can also be a challenge for law enforcement: it gives the extremists anonymity and low visibility, and it makes it tough to recruit sources and gather intelligence. It’s challenging, but not impossible—there have been a number of anarchist convictions since 1999 at both the state and federal levels. And the FBI, along with our law enforcement partners, will continue to detect and disrupt enterprises and individuals involved in criminal activity or who advocate the use of force or violence to further an anarchist extremist ideology.